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Pastor Steve's Page

Daily News Journal Column 4/5/20

Well, last week we all learned what we probably already knew: six more weeks of winter. No, wait! That was Groundhog Day! Which is what this social distancing is starting to feel like for many folks. So much stuff, so many events cancelled. But worst of all, too many deaths, often of those on the frontlines of this battle, doctors and nurses.

          

A crisis this large and sudden, and the response to it, has to have all kinds of political repercussions, and in many ways, though not all, it’s been “politics as usual.” But here’s two things to think about. For almost all of us, we can’t see what’s going on. We can’t see it. I don’t mean because shady deals are going down behind closed doors. I mean we can’t see because of the way we react to bad news, and this event certainly has been that.

          

In the last 20 years, psychologists have learned a lot about what could be called “The Power of Bad,” which is actually the title of John Tierney and Roy Baumeister’s new book, subtitled: “How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It.” We overreact to bad news, we overestimate its badness, we are more hurt by unkind words than helped by kind ones, we mourn losses in the stock market more intensely than we celebrate gains. On just about every subject, Bad seems to get more press, more attention, more reaction. 

          

But one of the key things to know is the first half of that word: overreaction. We over-do it. Things are not as bad as they seem or we think. Most of us overestimate crime statistics and virtually every indicator of social ill. We always think that things are worse than they are. Except.

          

When asked about ourselves, way more than 50% of us think we’re better than average drivers, better than average investors, better looking than average. Tierney and Baumeister talk about the evolutionary origin of these behaviors and the advantage they conferred. While I’m not arguing with any of that, I still hear a man say, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?”

          

Most of us feel like the end of April is an eternity away, but it will be here before you can even get ready for it. Remember how Christmas snuck up on you last year? This is nothing. Some of you enjoyed being in the Boy Scouts as kids, but I liked best about the hikes and camping trips was when they were over. I was so much more appreciative of hot showers, soft beds and my mother’s cooking after a Scout trip. No sand in my shoes, not roots poking me in the back, and no ashes in my food.

          

But really the way things have been going, because of the absence of vaccines and viable therapies and the seeming suddenness of its advent, this pandemic could have been worse than the Spanish Flu of a century ago.

          

So say it with me: This is the day that Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

 

Steve Odom is developing a backlog of undelivered sermons and looking forward to Easter Parade at Central Christian Church on East Main St.  

Notes from Pastor Steve 4/2/2020

I'm glad you're reading your Bible and praying more in this time of slowdown, drawdown, isolation, quarantine, whatever we call it. Some people get sad, some people get mad, others get antsy. Some are working more than ever, others feel like a racehorse locked in the barn. Today, two suggestions. If you can watch "Groundhog Day" with Bill Murray. It's the kind of movie you can watch over and over and over and.....you get it.

 

The other suggestion has to do with our perceptions. I just started reading a book, The Power of Bad, on my kindle from the Linebaugh Library. I'll post the description and link to Amazon below. It will help when there's so much bad news around, like today. Not a religious book at all, it's a couple of Social Psychologist writing about they and many others have learned about negativity and why it bulks, unnecessarily, large in our lives and imaginations. 

 

Why are we devastated by a word of criticism even when it’s mixed with lavish praise? Because our brains are wired to focus on the bad. This negativity effect explains things great and small: why countries blunder into disastrous wars, why couples divorce, why people flub job interviews, how schools fail students, why football coaches stupidly punt on fourth down. All day long, the power of bad governs people’s moods, drives marketing campaigns, and dominates news and politics.
 
Eminent social scientist Roy F. Baumeister stumbled unexpectedly upon this fundamental aspect of human nature. To find out why financial losses mattered more to people than financial gains, Baumeister looked for situations in which good events made a bigger impact than bad ones. But his team couldn’t find any. Their research showed that bad is relentlessly stronger than good, and their paper has become one of the most-cited in the scientific literature.
 
Our brain’s negativity bias makes evolutionary sense because it kept our ancestors alert to fatal dangers, but it distorts our perspective in today’s media environment. The steady barrage of bad news and crisis-mongering makes us feel helpless and leaves us needlessly fearful and angry. We ignore our many blessings, preferring to heed—and vote for—the voices telling us the world is going to hell.
 
But once we recognize our negativity bias, the rational brain can overcome the power of bad when it’s harmful and employ that power when it’s beneficial. In fact, bad breaks and bad feelings create the most powerful incentives to become smarter and stronger. Properly understood, bad can be put to perfectly good use.

As noted science journalist John Tierney and Baumeister show in this wide-ranging book, we can adopt proven strategies to avoid the pitfalls that doom relationships, careers, businesses, and nations. Instead of despairing at what’s wrong in your life and in the world, you can see how much is going right—and how to make it still better.

 

https://smile.amazon.com/Power-Bad-Negativity-Effect-Rules-ebook/dp/B07Q3NHPGZ/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=the+power+of+bad&qid=1585680278&sr=8-2

Notes from Pastor Steve 4/1/2020

Never understood the whole "coloring books for grownups" trend of a couple of years ago, but in times like these, it's better than binge drinking or watching "Tiger King" or many other offerings available. So to help you find something to color, I include a link to a public domain coloring book. It's from a fun website called the Public Domain Review, referencing stuff that's so old it's gone out of copyright. Here's how they describe this offering.

 

We wanted to do something for the PDR community in these strange and (for most) mainly house-bound times, and so we made you a colouring book — free to download and print off at home. In addition to the colourable cover, we've chosen twenty images from a wide range of artists, including Hokusai, Albrecht Dürer, Harry Clarke, Virginia Frances Sterrett, Jessie M. King, and Aubrey Beardsley. Arranged in vague order of difficulty — from a simple 17th-century kimono pattern to an intricate thousand-flowered illustration — we hope there is something for all ages and colouring prowess!

 

Announcing the PDR Colouring Book! Free to Download and Print Off at Home

Notes from Pastor Steve 3/31/2020

I'm glad you're reading your Bible and praying more in this time of slowdown, drawdown, isolation, quarantine, whatever we call it. Some people get sad, some people get mad, others get antsy. Some are working more than ever, others feel like a racehorse locked in the barn. Today, two suggestions. If you can watch "Groundhog Day" with Bill Murray. It's the kind of movie you can watch over and over and over and.....you get it.

 

The other suggestion has to do with our perceptions. I just started reading a book, The Power of Bad, on my kindle from the Linebaugh Library. I'll post the description and link to Amazon below. It will help when there's so much bad news around, like today. Not a religious book at all, it's a couple of Social Psychologist writing about they and many others have learned about negativity and why it bulks, unnecessarily, large in our lives and imaginations. 

 

Why are we devastated by a word of criticism even when it’s mixed with lavish praise? Because our brains are wired to focus on the bad. This negativity effect explains things great and small: why countries blunder into disastrous wars, why couples divorce, why people flub job interviews, how schools fail students, why football coaches stupidly punt on fourth down. All day long, the power of bad governs people’s moods, drives marketing campaigns, and dominates news and politics.
 
Eminent social scientist Roy F. Baumeister stumbled unexpectedly upon this fundamental aspect of human nature. To find out why financial losses mattered more to people than financial gains, Baumeister looked for situations in which good events made a bigger impact than bad ones. But his team couldn’t find any. Their research showed that bad is relentlessly stronger than good, and their paper has become one of the most-cited in the scientific literature.
 
Our brain’s negativity bias makes evolutionary sense because it kept our ancestors alert to fatal dangers, but it distorts our perspective in today’s media environment. The steady barrage of bad news and crisis-mongering makes us feel helpless and leaves us needlessly fearful and angry. We ignore our many blessings, preferring to heed—and vote for—the voices telling us the world is going to hell.
 
But once we recognize our negativity bias, the rational brain can overcome the power of bad when it’s harmful and employ that power when it’s beneficial. In fact, bad breaks and bad feelings create the most powerful incentives to become smarter and stronger. Properly understood, bad can be put to perfectly good use.

As noted science journalist John Tierney and Baumeister show in this wide-ranging book, we can adopt proven strategies to avoid the pitfalls that doom relationships, careers, businesses, and nations. Instead of despairing at what’s wrong in your life and in the world, you can see how much is going right—and how to make it still better.

 

https://smile.amazon.com/Power-Bad-Negativity-Effect-Rules-ebook/dp/B07Q3NHPGZ/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=the+power+of+bad&qid=1585680278&sr=8-2

April Caller Article 4/1/2020

Today, March 29, we all learned what we probably expected, that the “social distancing” will not end April 3, as some thought and hoped, but will extend several more weeks. The daily death rate did drop yesterday, but it’s too soon to know if that’s significant long term.

Many things in our community and country have come to a screeching halt, some from common sense, others by government mandate.  We have cancelled Sunday worship, the Sunday morning, evening and Monday evening classes, the Old Retired Guys breakfasts, the DWM/CWF meetings and the Square Dances.

Our daily Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in the church basement, which lately has had less than 10 attending anyway, continues, at their request, 1.) because they’ve requested to continue, and 2.) because AA saves lives, especially in a time of heightened anxiety and increased alcohol consumption. Please pray for them. They meet very spread out in the basement, and wipe all surfaces each morning.

But coming up is our DIY Prayer Vigil, our Share the Peace project, the continuing weekly Walk Through Worship (let me know if you know someone in church who hasn’t been receiving these), and we have plans for an Easter Parade!

Well, not really a parade, but we are going to invite the whole neighborhood to come out Easter morning, park in our lot, and “parade” up and down Main St., wear your finest Easter Bonnet and FaceMask, (if you have one!) stay 10 feet away from everyone and bring your dog(s).  We won’t be taking up an offering, but if your dog makes a deposit you’re encouraged to take it with you! No buildings will be open, no hugs will be offered and no hands will be shook (shaken?). We will have a table near the parking lot for anyone to share cleaning supplies, TP, and staples for others. All items left behind will go to the Nourish Food Bank after being wiped down.

Hope to see you there. It’s been too long.

Notes from Pastor Steve 3/30/2020

It is told that in every generation there are times when hope threatens to leave this world. At such times, the Baal Shem Tov, the great Jewish mystic, would go into a secret place in the forest. There he would light a special fire and say a holy prayer speaking the long-forgotten most sacred name of God.The danger was averted and hope stayed alive.

In later times when disaster threatened, the Maggid of Mezrich, his disciple, would go to the same place in the forest and say, "Ribono Shel Olam, Master of the Universe, I do not know how to light the fire, but I can say the prayer." 

Still later, his disciple, Moshe Leib of Sasov, would go to the same place in the forest and say,, "Ribono Shel Olam, Master of the Universe, I do not know how to light the fire or say the prayer, but I found my way to this place, and that must be enough." And it was. Hope stayed alive.

And later when Israel of Rizhyn needed intervention from heaven, he sat in his chair with his head in his hands and say, "Ribono Shel Olam, Master of the Universe, I no longer know how to light the fire nor how to say the prayer, I can't even find our way to that place, but I can tell the story and that must be enough." And it was.

And it still is. As long as stories are told, hope stays in the world.

DNJ Column 3/29/20

I haven’t heard anyone on the news outlets referring to the corona-virus pandemic that is suddenly shutting down our economy, and others, as a “plague,” but I am starting to see writers and bloggers draw attention to previous pandemics and plagues.

          

Many have referenced the H1N1 influenza pandemic of 2009-10, and the SARS corona-virus outbreak in 2003, which killed, respectively, an estimated 284,000 worldwide and 774 worldwide. The SARS had a much higher case fatality rate, but it did not spread as quickly and easily.

          

Most of us learned in history class of the Bubonic Plague (widely known as the Black Death) from the Middle Ages (1348-1350). Spread mainly by fleas from infected rodents and other mammals, yersinia pestis, as the bacillus is known, killed an estimated 40% of Europe’s population, and Europe as a whole took more than two centuries to return to pre-plague levels; England over four centuries.

          

There was no one keeping many medical records back then, so no real clear case fatality rate emerges, but anecdotally, it seems that some, though relatively few, recovered from the infection while others seemed to have some sort of natural immunity. The Bubonic Plague, which seems to have entered the Mediterranean world through trade along the Silk Road, the ancient traders’ route to China, changed the European world permanently, and came hard on the heels of a decades long period of climate change (the “Little Ice Age”) beginning around 1300.

          

The world’s population had grown in the warming period from 950-1250, but after that there was widespread hunger throughout those first three decades of the 14th century. Most Europeans suffered greatly during this period, especially the “peasants,” who were 95% of the population, having no reserves of food, livestock or seed stock after the first year. 1316 was known as the Year of No Summer, and accordingly, no crops. Those who survived the famine were weakened by the widespread pneumonia, bronchitis, and tuberculosis that followed the time of famine, and thus were not immunologically ready for the Plague of 1348.

          

The Great Plague was not the first, just the best known in European history. There had been others, beginning in with the Antonine Plague in 165 AD under Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the Plague of Cyprian (250-266 AD) and the Plague of Justinian (541-550 AD). Modern epidemiological historians consider that each of these had the same vector as that of the Bubonic Plague, arriving from the East along the Silk Road as a result of trade. What exactly these plagues were is not entirely clear, until Justinian, which is thought to be the first entry of the Bubonic Plague (yersinia pestis) into European history. Earlier outbreaks could have been cholera, typhus or smallpox. Historians differ.

          

Currently there has been back and forth from China and the US on who’s the source of the current pandemic, and even charges from one Chinese official that the US intentionally unleashed this virus.

          

In a crisis people act and speak under pressure and often without careful consideration. Historians will decide what this is called in the future, the Xi Virus, the Trump Virus, the 2020 Pandemic, COVID-19. Whatever we call it, I think there’s some wisdom, once we’re through the worst of this and the vulnerable are safe and healthy, in thinking harder about the porosity of borders and the fluidity of trade. Different populations seem to have different immunities, to wit, the native Americans of the 16th century, who died from a host of European infectious diseases after the time of Columbus.

          

At a national level, our government should act in the best interests of this country in being more careful about who enters the country and whether they have to have vaccinations and certifications about their current and prior health. We apparently didn’t learn enough from the Bird Flu, the SARS, the MERS, or the H1N1 Outbreaks. I’m thinking, hoping, we’ll remember this one.

Steve Odom is pastor Central Christian Church in Murfreesboro, which is not meeting for worship today.

Daily News Journal Column March 22, 2020

 

Dear Lord,

          

Today I pray for people I’ve never met and whose names I don’t know, but you do. I’m thinking about a little boy, old enough to watch the news, home now from school all day, and the news is all about the Coronavirus and people dying. What is he thinking is going to happen? What does he think about at night? I pray for this young boy, Lord.

          

I pray for a young mother of three who’s been managing a restaurant since her divorce, and just learned that it’s going to have to close down. She’s wondering where to go and what to do, and how long the money and the food will hold out. I pray for her, Lord.

          

There’s a 20-year old member of the National Guard in New Rochelle, NY right now, Lord, who’s serving his country and his community, but is near people diagnosed with the virus. He wonders what happens at night when he goes home, or visits his parents. I pray for him and for his safety and those he protects.

          

In Ohio there’s an 80 year old widower who lives with his disabled son, whom he has to take to the doctor regularly. He’s worried about dying before he can provide for his son. Who will care for, who will love his son when he’s gone?

          

There’s a Chinese Uighur detained in an internment camp in Western China for “re-education.” I don’t know anything about these people, Lord. I’m told China thinks they’re a threat to national security because they’re radical Muslims. This could be true, but they’ve broken no law, they’re in crowded unsanitary conditions in the camps, as are Syrian refugees, and refugees in Burundi, and the Congo, and in Central America. I pray for them and for the many aid workers of the United Nations Refugee Commission.

          

I pray for our mailman Lord. He’s being careful with gloves and other measures, but he handles packages and letters constantly from all over the country, and the world. He sorts it, and picks up outgoing mail, and his work is essential to the lives of so many people, delivering prescription drugs and other things essential to the health of many. I pray for his safety.  

          

I pray for politicians today. Federal and state and local. I pray for politicians who stand up at press conferences where reporters yell at them and snidely accuse them, and set verbal traps for them. I pray for these politicians, and for public health officials and public health workers, who are at risk every day. I pray for the scientists at work on a vaccine for the virus.

          

And I pray for the widow with no children who lives alone with her TV. I pray for her fear, her loneliness, her health, her ability to find food in a time of induced scarcity. I pray for myself, Lord, and others, that we will be patient when our routines are disrupted. That we will be understanding of those who will be blamed when outcomes go wrong. I pray for police officers and those on dispatch who are dealing with all kinds of craziness right now, for when people are scared, or confused, or angry, they call the police, not knowing what else to do. Give them patience as well, Lord, and protect them.

          

Protect the nurses, and doctors, and truck drivers, and grocery store employees, and the farmers. And fill us with your wisdom, Lord, that we may not miss this opportunity to learn how much we depend on each other, and on individuals we don’t know, and perhaps wouldn’t like if we did know them. And bless those who remember that rule to live by, that we might treat others as we ourselves would wish to be treated. In Jesus’ name, who gave himself for others. Amen

Steve Odom feels fine right now, and is pastor of Central Christian Church on E. Main St.

 

DNJ Column March 15, 2020

 

Some of you remember the last big Oil Crisis of the 1970s. How enraged we were when gasoline prices crossed $0.50 a gallon! And then, five years later it got worse, approaching $1.00 per gallon! I had a good friend at the time, who said, perhaps a bit precipitately, “If it gets to a dollar a gallon, I just won’t buy any gas!”

          

We’re all kinda like that sometimes. We like big talk. We talk back to the TV news as if CNN or Fox, etc., are afraid of us. We boast, “He better not try that with me or he won’t know what hit him!” We hear national figures say things like that. I liked Schumer’s obviously off-the-cuff attempt to trash talk the Supreme Court. The funny part was the mash up of metaphors. You can, of course, “release the Kraken!” Though that might have limited applicability and recognition. You can sow the wind, and “reap” the whirlwind, which, maybe, was what he was getting at. But I never heard of “releasing the whirlwind.” Schumer’s rhetoric was of course directed at the two newest Justices, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, regarding their upcoming vote on an abortion case on the docket. Kavanaugh had used similar language when he described the frenzy of criticism at his confirmation hearings, though he at least got the phrasing right. He said at the time: “You sowed the wind for decades to come. I fear that the whole country will reap the whirlwind.”

          

I honestly think Schumer, in the heat of the moment, with an adoring crowd, didn’t really intend to physically threaten, or call for assassination of Federal officials. But this is why it’s always important to be careful with our language. My friend got a little heated, but the dollar price was crossed, and, well, he kept on driving to work.

          

It seems to bother some people that the Oil Industry is such a large part of the world economy, but really and truly there is a direct line between improving health and wealth (and the two always go together) in the last 150 years and the rise of the modern oil industry, which drives everything related to transportation, as well as chemistry, pharmaceuticals, etc.

         

It’s an easy bet that you and I are alive because of men like James Young, Edward Binney, Abraham Gesner and Ignaz Lukasiewicz. There are hundreds of people who contributed to our abilities to abstract, refine and develop the uses of petroleum in things like antihistamines, insecticides, soap, cortisone, fertilizer, antifreeze, detergent, ammonia, toothpaste, etc.

          

So it feels a little weird now that Saudi Arabia, who fifty years ago wouldn’t pump more oil, and drove the scarcity crisis of the ‘70s, now is part of the new oil crisis because they’re producing too much oil (along with Russia). Historically high stock market valuations, the COVID-19 epidemic, the aforementioned oil crisis have all contributed to the intensification of the recent stock market correction. Which may turn around, on a dime, by the time you read this. Or not.

          

It’s the upsidedown-ness of today compared to 1974-79 that caught my attention. We couldn’t get enough oil 50 years ago and so there was a crisis. We have too much oil now and so there’s a crisis. I suppose supply and demand drives a great deal of this. Along with our inability to predict the future, of course.

          

The French say, in their inimitable way, the more things change the more they stay the same. But it really seems more like to me, “the longer you live the more everything seems to be upside down and backward.” If I could put that in French, I’m sure it would be more convincing.

          

What I can’t get used to is Republicans spending money like there’s no tomorrow, and Democrats wringing their hands about Russians. See my invented phrase above. 

 

If you’re French, please send steven.odom@gmail.com a translation of his invented aphorism. Odom is pastor of Central Christian Church.

DNJ Column 3/1/20

Henry Wallace was an Iowa farmer who edited a journal, Wallace’s Farmer, still published today. An adept businessman, he founded the very successful “Hi-Bred Corn Co”. In 1932 he was a supporter of FDR, who appointed him Secretary of Agriculture (1933-40). In 1940, FDR made it clear he wanted Wallace as VP and he was nominated by the party and won election as the second VP under FDR. Famously, FDR had never announced his own intentions, but the party nominated him anyway. In the election of ’44, Wallace was pushed out by the party in favor of Harry Truman to serve as FDR’s VP for his last term.

 

In the parlance of the day, Wallace was too “red.” At one point he had said, “both the American and Russian revolutions were part of the march of freedom of the past 150 years.”  He had been a very active and effective VP, and his deep involvement in the war effort on many levels led to some referring to him as the “Assistant President.” His long tenure at Agriculture in the 30s, developing it into the largest of Federal departments at the time, prepared him for his role during the war.

 

But he was economically to the left of FDR, which took some doing, and his viewpoint re: the USSR and its policies was the main reason he was booted off the ticket in 1944. (Impressively, Wallace was nonetheless a vigorous and public supporter of FDR in the ’44 election. FDR rewarded him with the position of Secretary of Commerce.). All during the war, Wallace had enthusiastically boosted Stalin and his policies, lauding the successes of his notorious “five-year plans.”

 

In early 1944 Wallace toured the USSR and the Gulag (forced-labor camps) and sounded impressed with the sanitized version of the camps the Russians presented to him.  At the Kolyma gold mine labor camp, where over 16,000 laborers had died in 1942 alone, all the barbed wire was removed, the starving “zeks” shipped off to other camps, and healthy-looking NKVD officers brought in to take their place while Wallace was there. Wallace was impressed and said they were “big, husky men,” who he supposed had “come out to the Far East from European Russia.” He later said the camps, which to everyone else were obvious Potemkin Villages, were like a “combination Tennessee Valley Authority and Hudson’s Bay Company.” Except for the mass graves, of course.

 

Why he was so gullible, I don’t know. True, we were “allies” with the USSR against Germany and Japan. True, many others were fooled as well. But it seems to me, someone near the very top of government, like Wallace, might have been more alert, more perspicacious.

 

But give Henry Wallace credit. Unlike many fellow travelers of our era, who, when the USSR collapsed in 1991 never apologized, never admitted their mistakes, Wallace came out boldly in 1952, in an article in The Week entitled, “Where I Was Wrong.” In this article Wallace honorably stated: “More and more I am convinced that Russian Communism in its total disregard of truth, in its fanaticism, its intolerance and its resolute denial of God and religion is something utterly evil…What I wanted was peace, but not peace at the price of Communist domination. I thought the Soviets had more sense than to do what they have been doing during the past few years. There I was proved wrong by subsequent events.”

 

Had Wallace known more of the Soviets’ history, he might have been more wary. Instructively, it’s an old Russian proverb that say, “Dwell on the past and you'll lose an eye; forget the past and you'll lose both.”  Henry Wallace. An honorable man. As Isaiah Berlin said, “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.”  Sometimes good people make bad decisions. And vice versa. That’s only one reason why politics is complicated, and reasonable people disagree.

 

Steve Odom is pastor of Central Christian Church in Murfreesboro and every day tries to balance first on his left leg and then on his right.

March Caller Article

Many lovers of the King James version of the Bible are little if at all aware of its origins and that it came from the work of six committees (!) of mostly college professors. The translators were organized into teams, the chair of that in charge of Genesis-2 Kings being one Lancelot Andrewes. I first came across Andrewes in T.S. Eliot’s poem, “Journey of the Magi.” Eliot uses lines from one of Andrewes’ sermons on Christmas Day, in 1622:

"A cold coming they had of it at this time of the year, just the worst time of the year to take a journey, and specially a long journey in. The ways deep, the weather sharp, the days short, the sun farthest off….the very dead of winter."

 

I can’t in good conscience recommend Dr. Andrewes’ sermons to you as something you’d enjoy reading. “And these difficulties they overcame, of a wearisome, irksome, troublesome, dangerous, unseasonable journey; and for all this they came. And came it cheerfully and quickly, as appeareth by the speed they made. It was but vidimus, venimus, with them; they saw, and they came; no sooner saw, but they set out presently. So as upon the first appearing of the star, as it might be last night, they knew it was Balaam's star; it called them away, they made ready straight to begin their journey this morning. A sign they were highly conceited of His birth, believed some great matter of it, that they took all these pains, made all this haste that they might be there to worship Him with all the possible speed they could. Sorry for nothing so much as that they could not be there soon enough, with the very first, to do it even this day, the day of His birth.

 

There is a great deal more in that vein. But for me, Andrewes redeems himself with a small devotional book he wrote, for his own use, called in English “The Private Prayers (or Preces Privatae) of Lancelot Andrewes.” A friend gave me his copy and it is a marvel.

It reminds me of the insight that as one approaches more closely to the overwhelming light of God, one learns more of one’s own sins and unworthiness. The most saintly, it seems, are the most acutely aware of their own failings. In our modern, Freudian, world, we’re accustomed to diagnosing people like Andrewes with one or another psychological disorder.

 

His “Confession” from his “Order of Prayers for the First Day of the Week” begins thus: Merciful and pitiful Lord, Long-suffering and full of pity, I have sinned, I have sinned against Thee; O me, wretched that I am, I have sinned, Lord, against Thee much and

grievously, in attending on vanities and lies. I conceal nothing; I make no excuses.”

         

He also has a Prayer for Grace, that’s built around the Ten Commandments. They’re numbered in his text: “Remove from me,

 

1.       All iniquity and profaneness, superstition, and hypocrisy.

2.       Worship of idols, of persons.

3.       Rash oath, and curse.

4.       Neglect or indecency of worship.

5.       Haughtiness and recklessness.

6.       Strife and wrath.

7.       Passion and corruption.

8.       Indolence and fraud.

9.       Lying and injuriousness.

10.     Every evil notion, every impure thought, every base desire, every unseemly thought.

 

And then he continues, “Grant to me,

1.       To be religious and pious.

2.       To worship and serve.

3.       To bless and swear truly.

4.       To confess meetly in the congregation.

5.       Affection and obedience.

6.       Patience and good temper.

7.       Purity and soberness.

8.       Contentedness and goodness.

9.       Truth and incorruptness.

10.     Good thoughts, perseverance to the end.

 

I don’t know if you feel as inadequate as I do on simply contemplating Andrewes’ accomplishments, but I find it encouraging to contemplate his work and service not only without our modern conveniences, but even before tea or coffee were available in England!

 

DNJ Column, 2/23/20

Many lovers of the King James version of the Bible are little if at all aware of its origins and that it came from the work of six committees (!) of mostly college professors. The translators were organized into teams, the chair of that in charge of Genesis-2 Kings being one Lancelot Andrewes. I first came across Andrewes in T.S. Eliot’s poem, “Journey of the Magi.” Eliot uses lines from one of Andrewes’ sermons on Christmas Day, in 1622:

"A cold coming they had of it at this time of the year, just the worst time of the year to take a journey, and specially a long journey in. The ways deep, the weather sharp, the days short, the sun farthest off….the very dead of winter."

 

I can’t in good conscience recommend Dr. Andrewes’ sermons to you as something you’d enjoy reading. “And these difficulties they overcame, of a wearisome, irksome, troublesome, dangerous, unseasonable journey; and for all this they came. And came it cheerfully and quickly, as appeareth by the speed they made. It was but vidimus, venimus, with them; they saw, and they came; no sooner saw, but they set out presently. So as upon the first appearing of the star, as it might be last night, they knew it was Balaam's star; it called them away, they made ready straight to begin their journey this morning. A sign they were highly conceited of His birth, believed some great matter of it, that they took all these pains, made all this haste that they might be there to worship Him with all the possible speed they could. Sorry for nothing so much as that they could not be there soon enough, with the very first, to do it even this day, the day of His birth.”

          

There is a great deal more in that vein. But for me, Andrewes redeems himself with a small devotional book he wrote, for his own use, called in English “The Private Prayers (or Preces Privatae) of Lancelot Andrewes.” A friend gave me his copy and it is a marvel.

         

 It reminds me of the insight that as one approaches more closely to the overwhelming light of God, one learns more of one’s own sins and unworthiness. The most saintly, it seems, are the most acutely aware of their own failings. In our modern, Freudian, world, we’re accustomed to diagnosing people like Andrewes with one or another psychological disorder.

          

His “Confession” from his “Order of Prayers for the First Day of the Week” begins thus: Merciful and pitiful Lord, Long-suffering and full of pity, I have sinned, I have sinned against Thee; O me, wretched that I am, I have sinned, Lord, against Thee much and grievously, in attending on vanities and lies. I conceal nothing; I make no excuses.”

          

He also has a Prayer for Grace, that’s built around the Ten Commandments. They’re numbered in his text: “Remove from me,

1.    All iniquity and profaneness, superstition, and hypocrisy.

2.    Worship of idols, of persons.

3.    Rash oath, and curse.

4.    Neglect or indecency of worship.

5.    Haughtiness and recklessness.

6.    Strife and wrath.

7.    Passion and corruption.

8.    Indolence and fraud.

9.    Lying and injuriousness.

10. Every evil notion, every impure thought, every base desire, every unseemly thought.

 

And then he continues, “Grant to me,

1.    To be religious and pious.

2.    To worship and serve.

3.    To bless and swear truly.

4.    To confess meetly in the congregation.

5.    Affection and obedience.

6.    Patience and good temper.

7.    Purity and soberness.

8.    Contentedness and goodness.

9.    Truth and incorruptness.

10. Good thoughts, perseverance to the end.

 

I don’t know if you feel as inadequate as I do on simply contemplating Andrewes’ accomplishments, but I find it encouraging to contemplate his work and service not only without our modern conveniences, but even before tea or coffee were available in England!

 

Steve Odom’s favorite is Café Verona, and he’s the pastor of Central Christian Church in Murfreesboro.

DNJ Column February 16, 2020

 

In the late eighties, I started a Shakespeare Reading Group at my neighborhood church in Washington, D.C. We met twice a month in the church basement around a few tables and read our assigned parts in whatever play was up that night. These are called “Readers’ Theatres.” I had sent out press releases to theatre groups in the area, looking for some really good readers to make it fun for the rest of us and a few showed up. It was still going when I left in ’93 and lasted for a good while.

 

While I was there a reporter from the DC “City Paper” came by to interview me, and it was a young woman named Jennifer Senior, who seemed only recently out of college. She wrote quite a snappy, clever, humorous article, using an ingenious series of Shakespeare quotes to head her paragraphs.

Years later I see there’s a Jennifer Senior writing for the NY Times and it looks like the same person, albeit three decades later. She seems, from her articles, to be a standard progressive/liberal politically and culturally, though she is taking some risks.

 

The risks are in the way she’s recently pushed back against the wokeness of “cancel culture.” This is perilous for folk in her position, for the Op/Ed page of the NYT is the pinnacle of catbird seats, and how art the mighty fallen is more than just a Bible quote. So kudos to Senior for speaking up.

Her speaking up was in in opinion column on Teen Fiction and Cancel Culture from last March, when she narrated the “smack down” of a YA Fiction author, Kosoko Jackson, who had written a novel on the Yugoslav implosions of the early ‘90s. The irony is that Jackson, who is black and gay, had, in Senior’s words, “worked as a ‘sensitivity reader’ for major publishing houses, which meant his job was to flag just the sort of problem content for which he was now being run out of town. He was Robespierre with his own neck in the cradle of the guillotine.”

 

She pushes her critique further by saying, “What happened to Jackson is frightening. Purity tests are the tools of fanatics, and the quest for purity ultimately becomes indistinguishable from the quest for power.” What I’m wondering is if there are younger staffers that are eyeing this aging Millennial while sharpening their knives. Watch your back, Jennifer.

 

It’s encouraging to see that there are liberals with enough self-awareness to know that “The Revolution ends by devouring its own children." And she’s not alone. George Packer is a writer for the Atlantic and penned a long piece on the contradictions, years ago, in trying to get his children into New York City private pre-schools that charge tuition of app. $50,000 and critique two-year-old applicants’ crayon scribbles as if they were essays written to get into college.

 

Lately, Packer’s kids have been obsessed with the Broadway show Hamilton, His daughter was shocked to learn that the Founding Fathers weren’t black. His son’s woke public school taught him all about China and the Mayans, and the genocide of Native Americans and slavery. But he wistfully notes that he wishes his son were taught more civics.  “He was never taught about the founding of the republic. He didn’t learn that conflicting values and practical compromises are the lifeblood of self-government…He got his civics from Hamilton.”

 

Only negatives seem to be acceptable when teaching history nowadays. Packard says that the students are not encouraged “to research their topics, make intellectual discoveries, answer potential counterarguments.” In essence it’s a training in political activism.

I remember cutting turkeys out of construction paper and drawing Pilgrims with funny hats. What do your kids bring home from school?

 

Steve Odom went to school in Florida where there was no A/C, no sharp points on the scissors, and the coaches walked around with wooden paddles hung from their wrists by leather thongs.

DNJ Column2/9/20

 

What is the scariest thing you can remember? Mark Helprin, an award-winning American novelist and short story writer, wrote “In Sunlight and Shadow,” which I’m currently half-way through. If Helprin is not America’s greatest living novelist, I don’t know who would be. But anyway, in the novel I’m reading, the main character, Harry, is a WWII vet and a paratrooper, (the story is set in the late ‘40s) who, in remembering the invasion of Sicily describes his last sight of his buddy in the jump plane who’s cut in half by the flak that hit them right before they jumped. Scary stuff.

          

I recall taking out the garbage at my childhood home in Tallahassee one time. I had to walk the can out to the street, and the neighborhood back then in the early ‘70s, was very dark, and it was late at night. Going out was no problem, but walking back to the house was an entirely different feeling. The driveway was less than 30 yards, but as I grew closer to the house things got more and more creepy. I heard nothing, saw nothing, but it was a weird feeling. I started walking faster, and by the time I got to the back door I was actually running. I stopped at the door, I guess I’d reached safety in my mind, and looked around, slowed my breathing, and stepped back in the house. Never told anyone.

          

I remember another occasion, at the same house, while I was in college, I experienced a very severe and realistic episode of sleep paralysis. In my dream, which is how that works, I couldn’t move or get away, and was in some sort of plaza with an outdoor fountain in the middle of it. Sitting on the edge of the fountain was a figure dressed in a black cloak and hood facing away from me. I couldn’t run, I couldn’t look away, but I somehow knew that figure was going to turn and look at me and the prospect was somehow unbearable.

          

Time in a dream or nightmare is very elastic, and as this figure turned toward me with infinite slowness, I began, in the dream, repeating to myself, “The blood of Jesus Christ covers all my sins. The blood of Jesus Christ covers all my sins….” I don’t know how many times I said that, or where I had learned to say that, but, as we used to say, boy heckfire, I was scared. Suddenly I woke up before the figure could turn toward me. You know how they used to spell relief? (R-O-L-A-I-D-S) Not me. That episode made me look at the reality of the spiritual world with new eyes, especially the power of the name of Jesus.

          

But to be truthful the scariest moment in my life was after my brother and I took our new leather horsewhips that our parents bought for us on a vacation to the Smokies in the ‘50s, and while Mom was inside with the new baby, Chuck and I tried ‘em out on the clean sheets she had hanging on the clothesline in the back yard. Wow was that a bad idea. Fun, but stupid. The whips were already fairly dirty and the Duval county mud didn’t help any, and that was where the chickens wandered as well.

          

Mom didn’t do anything to us. After she discovered our High Crimes, all she said was, “When your father gets home, he’s going to take those horsewhips and give you boys a whipping!” Dad was a pretty serious sort of guy, and a stern father, so we had no reason to doubt her. Holy cow was I scared.

          

Oddly enough I don’t remember what happened. We were hiding when Dad came home. It probably occurred to him that he’d bought the things and he argued for our acquittal.

         

 “Count your blessings, name them one by one…” the old hymn goes. And isn’t that the truth!

 

Steve Odom “lost” that horsewhip somewhere along the way, but is now pastor of Central Christian Church in Murfreesboro.